Some guys actually do this kind of thing for a living. Me, practicing Hoop Forensics is more of a hobby, like karate or spreading good cheer. Joe Lunardi is pretty serious about this stuff, though. In fact, his understanding of Hoop Forensics sometimes overwhelms me.
Joe’s tweets are as beautiful as they are mysterious – best read at a British hunting club, before a roaring fire while voiced by Stephen Hawking. Perhaps I’m not meant to understand. Maybe it’s enough that I appreciate.
What is ESPN Bracketology?
The Readers Digest Version: ESPN Bracketology is spearheaded by ESPN “Bracketologist” Joe Lunardi, who attempts to predict the March Madness Field of 64 based off (we assume) 1) ESPN RPI, 2) ESPN BPI (which is some kind of mysterious power index) and 3) Lunardi’s gut.
For the sake of the Group of Five (or in our parlance, “TheForgotten”), we’ll
half-ass analyze Bracketology each week with Forgotten Forensics to hold Lunardi’s gut to the fire.
What is Forgotten5 Forgotten Forensics?
Forgotten Forensics, February 3rd Edition
Normally, this is the part where I bounce around the projected bracket grousing about the Group of Five’s shrinking opportunity. But it’s February, and brother, it’s time I accept frigid fate. This will not be the G5 Revolution prophesied by The One. No use fighting The Man! You win, The Man! Instead of leading the resistance (which is more paperwork than movies like The Running Man led me to believe) let’s review the Group of Five teams Joe Lunardi projects will crash the Big Dance.
Ranked 14th in the current AP Top 25 poll and boasting a 16 ranking from Sagarin, nothing seems to to be preventing the 20-2 Bearcats from carrying the Group of Five banner into March. Sure, it seemed like Tulsa might punch a dent into Cincinnati’s armor this week when the Golden Hurricane led 55-52 with just 52 seconds left on the clock. But nope. The Hurricane was all bluster, and the Bearcats remain undefeated. Lunardi has Cincinnati facing Belmont to open the tourney.
Potential Challenger: Memphis
Memphis boasts a 72 Kenpom, which isn’t enough to pull the Tigers into the tournament. But what Memphis has as a meaty schedule – remaining games with Tulsa, SMU and Cincinnati. If anybody can create chaos in the American, it’s Memphis.
On Wednesday night, the Mustangs blew out East Carolina by 40 points, and now their 9-1 in conference, 19-4 overall. Couple AAC domination with a 25 Sagarin ranking, and SMU is in zero danger of losing its seed, who Lunardi has playing Clemson. Even if the Mustangs and Bearcats were ousted in the conference tourney (Memphis? UCF? Houston?), these two programs are coasting into March.
Potential Challenger: (See Cincinnati)
NOTE: Don’t discount Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane did come within two points of handing the Bearcats its first conference loss. And while its 110 Kenpom isn’t great, Tulsa still has plenty of firepower to create significant chaos in the conference tourney.
Now we get into the “Just Plug In The Conference Leader” portion of Lunardi’s bracket, which isn’t very fair to the Zips, because they’re 9-0 in the MAC with a decent-enough 99 Kenpom ranking. Also in Akron’s favor? A solid 43 RPI! Sadly, playing in the MAC won’t do much to stabilize the RPI – the MAC’s second-best team, Eastern Michigan, is rocking a 139. Still, Akron is in no danger of losing the conference in regular season, and I’d give the Zips a better than decent chance to compete with first round match-up Notre Dame.
Potential Challenger: Eastern Michigan, maybe?
Past the Zips, there isn’t much action in the MAC. Eastern Michigan boasts the conferences second highest Kenpom at 115. The MAC West leader, 6-3 Ball State isn’t a threat. The Cardinals have a Kenpom of 179 and a RPI of 203. Yikes! Akron may be the safest Group of Five program projected to Dance.
You know who has a better Kenpom than Akron? Nevada (70)! The Wolf Pack is 18-5 and and 7-3 in conference with big games remaining against Boise State and Colorado State. But this week’s loss to Utah State (158 Kenpom) was pretty gross, and the committee would probably rather see Boise State and its TV eyeballs get the slot. But right now, the Wolf Pack has Florida to open March Madness.
Potential Challenger: Boise State
The Bronco’s sub-100 Kenpom (93) and 67 RPI makes Boise State the most likely challenger to Nevada, who was really embarrassed (and exposed?) 74-57 by a sorry Utah State team this week. This slot is totally up in the air once conference play begins.
(15) Arkansas State
UT-Arlington was supposed to have this slot, but the Mavericks’ keep getting bested by the likes of Texas State and Coastal Carolina. Georgia Southern assumed the position for a couple weeks, only to endure a disastrous road trip and lose sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt. Now the Red Wolves, with its 80 RPI and 97 Kenpom, are on top and projected to face North Carolina. Arkansas State is riding a swell five game win streak and have the next two in Jonesboro, where they’re undefeated the season. Expect the Red Wolves to hang out for awhile.
Potential Challenger: EvvvvvvverrrrryONE!
There’s a three way tie for first place in the Sun Belt, with Arkansas State, Georgia State and Georgia Southern all bearing 7-3 records. At their heels, preseason favorite UT-Arlington (6-3) and preseason basement dweller Texas State (6-3). Behind them are several teams that could create bedlam in the Sun Belt tourney, including Louisiana, Troy and defending champion Little Rock. Nothing is settled in the Sun Belt.